Africa leads the way in dealing with e-waste

There are a lot of grassroots and human-centred aspects to Fab Cities, but it’s also an intersection of fields where technology tends to play a large role. Even with better maintenance, re-use, repair, upcycling, and recycling, a lot of our electronics end up in the trash or supposedly recycled but actually shipped elsewhere to be disposed of in less than ideal situations.

Let’s not kid ourselves, it’s quite weird that this article about African countries taking measures to deal with e-waste doesn’t once mention the outsized share of e-waste that comes from Western countries, or that the “7.3 kg per capita” figure from the infographic is very misleading since it puts everyone on the same footing when clearly we are not. The root cause of Africa’s problem with e-waste is that rich countries export it to Africa and parts of Asia to be disposed of.

Still, that doesn’t take away, on the contrary, from the merit of these countries taking strong measures to try and control the problem.

With the ICT boom has come a huge increase in discarded electrical and electronic equipment, or ‘e-waste’. A record 53.6 million metric tonnes (Mt) of e-waste was generated around the world in 2019, and this number is on the rise. Experts predict that the annual generation of e-waste will reach 74.7 Mt by 2030. […]

According to the Global E-waste Monitor 2020, 13 countries in Africa had an e-waste policy, legislation or regulation in place.

The article identifies four factors in controlling e-waste.

Clearly define value chain actors. Make sure that manufacturers and importers “take responsibility for the end-of-life management of electronics sold on the market. This includes taking items back, recycling them and eventually disposing of them.”

Ensure sustainable financing. Having identified the actors, make sure the fees levied are sufficient to support a sustainable system that is self-financing.

In Nigeria, producers help cover the cost of e-waste management – including waste collection, separation and transfer, treatment and recycling and final disposal, as well as public information and awareness campaigns and training programmes. […]

Regulation can help protect these financing schemes. Ghana introduced an e-waste eco-levy on the import of used and end-of-life electrical and electronic equipment.

Collaborate with the private sector. Some producers regroup as Producer Responsibility Organizations (PROs) to help companies with the implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) programs. According to the piece, countries collaborating with these groups can achieve their goals.

Enforcement of the system. Various government agencies need to collaborate to streamline and fine-tune their enforcement system. For example, “counterfeit equipment can become e-waste much quicker due to faulty parts and non-conformity towards certain technical standards, among other things.” So standards setting, conformity validation, and imports need to track the impacts on their e-waste targets.

To combat the importation of counterfeit equipment, the Zambia Information and Communications Technologies Authority (ZICTA) enforces the responsible importation of technology equipment through type approval, which means checking that a product meets a minimum set of regulatory, technical and safety requirements.”

Less consumerism, more maintainable products, better programs of re-use and re-furbishing, local recycling, the list of things ‘we’ can do better before electronics end up as e-waste in Africa is quite long, but it’s good to see that these countries are also working on the problem while ‘we’ fix our end of it.

Image: Tina Rataj-Berard on Unsplash.